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101 Animals

Dalmatians, cats and elephants are just a few of the four-legged creatures in documentaries and films.

May 01, 1997|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If you love four-legged beasties of any species or breed, you might want to check out some of these new videos starring various inhabitants of the animal kingdom.

Disney recently released "101 Dalmatians" ($27), the smash hit, 1996 live-action version of its 1961 animated classic. Glenn Close is terrific fun to watch as the vile, fur-coat fanatic Cruella DeVil, and the multitude of Dalmatians are adorable. The original was filled with its share of sight gags, but had a lot of heart. Unfortunately, heart is what this version is lacking. Though there's a sales moratorium on the animated version, you may be able to find it on the rental shelves.

PBS' Emmy Award-winning literary pooch Wishbone stars in two new adventures (Lyrick Studios, $15 each), based on the classics. In "Hercules Unleashed," the perky Jack Russell gives Kevin Sorbo a run for his money as the mighty Hercules. In this story, Herc the hound must battle an evil dragon and outsmart the titan Atlas on his journey to find golden apples. The tape also includes new footage not seen on TV.

In "A Tail in Twain," Wishbone travels to the Mississippi to play one of Mark Twain's most famous literary creations, Tom Sawyer.

Dog lovers wince when they hear this, but cats are now the most popular pet in America. Cat fanatics will be in feline heaven over "A&E's Incredible World of Cats" (A&E, $30), a fascinating three-hour documentary, which originally aired on A&E last December, examining the 10,000-year history of the kitty. The comprehensive study of the mysterious, beloved animal visits a modern cat show, talks with animal behavior authorities, explores the multibillion-dollar pet industry and visits with such famous felines as Morris. It's the cat's meow. To order call (800) 423-1212.

"The Leopard Son" (Hallmark), the first feature-length documentary from the Discovery Channel, follows the journey of a beguiling, mischievous African leopard cub from his infancy to the dangers he encounters coming of age. Renowned wildlife cinematographer Hugo Van Lawick spent two years shooting the documentary. Though "The Leopard Son" is beautifully shot and its star is very engaging, the narration, spoken in mellifluous tones by Sir John Gielgud, is bland and obtrusive. It's best to watch with the sound turned down.

Paramount's "The Ghost and the Darkness" is based on the real 1896 tragedy that occurred in Tsavo in Southern Kenya in which two man-eating lions dined on 200 rail workers. The thriller, directed by Stephen Hopkins, manages a few scary scenes but doesn't quite deliver the goods. Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas, sporting the strangest Southern accent you've ever heard, star.

Winstar Home Entertainment's "Maneaters of Tsavo" ($20) is a fairly compelling documentary investigating the truth behind the lions' attack on the railway workers. The documentary follows veteran guides as they journey through Tsavo National Park in search of clues in the man-eaters' den where the lions had been tracked. Fast-forward, though, through all the stilted promotional interviews with Kilmer, Douglas and Hopkins, which detract from the film.

Move over, Dumbo, and make way for Tai, a 29-year-old Asian elephant who steals MGM's "Larger Than Life" ($20) from under the very talented nose of movie clown Bill Murray. The actor plays a successful businessman who learns he's to receive a "big inheritance" from his estranged father, a former circus clown. Instead of money, though, he inherits an 8,000-pound circus elephant named Vera who immediately develops a crush on him. The movie is extremely lightweight fare, but Tai's sweet performance makes it worth a look. Tai previously appeared in "Operation Dumbo Drop" and "Made in America" and can respond to more than 50 voice commands and behaviors.

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